I HAVE never been to a community play as involving and passionately felt as is Monmouth, The West Country Rebellion, on at Lyme Regis until 16th July.
Inspired by the success of 2016’s production of The Tempest of Lyme, Marine Theatre artistic director Clemmie Reynolds and writer Andrew Rattenbury teamed up again to create a play about the Duke of Monmouth and his rebellion against the Catholic King James II. Monmouth was the illegitimate and charismatic son of Charles II, and he landed at Lyme in 1685, gathering a raggle-taggle army before marching north on a planned route to London.
But while he believed that God was on his side, the fates were not with him. Promised support did not materialise, he was betrayed by trusted commanders and the weather turned terrible. His army was routed at Kings Sedgemoor near Chedzoy, and the Duke was captured in flight at Horton, taken to the capital and beheaded.
The excitement and terror of these times, followed by the Bloody Assize, when Judge Jeffrey progressed through the West Country hanging and quartering anyone he suspected of involvement in the rebellion, are vividly brought to life by an exceptional company, many of whom have never been on stage before. That’s the real essence of a community play.
You almost had the impression, in the atmospherically dimly lit Marine, that they would REALLY have joined James Scott on his long march, and encouraged us, the audience, to swell the ranks.
Clever use of “spontaneous” projections brought the action into the 21st century, with shots of present day Lyme, 20th and 21st century war zones and even a glimpse of the current Labour leader on the march.
With live music by a six strong band, and restrained but effective use of the auditorium as well as the stage, this is a production that weaves its audience into the action as the story unfolds with sometimes frightening intensity as well as comic and romantic moments.
It is told in retrospect through the eyes of the 70-year-old Alice Hawkier (mesmerisingly performed by Anne King), looking back on the time when she disguised herself as a boy to join Monmouth’s army, alongside her brother. Chosen by the Duke as his personal valet, Alice/Adam was at the forefront of both the battles and the planning, as her devotion to the leader was reciprocated by the confused Monmouth.
As in any community production, especially those in which every single member of the cast has his or her own moment, it is hard to pick out individual performances.
But it’s impossible not to mention Nick Ivins as the Duke, perfect casting for this magnetic man, and all the more extraordinary as this was his stage debut.
Georgia Robson was the ardent young Alice, with Brian Rattenbury and Harriet Dickson as the comical Larkes (Brian leading the fine singing, too). Maya Pieris captured the conviction of the Rev Ferguson and Declan Duffy was duly duplicitous as Lord Grey.
It’s a huge undertaking, and a huge triumph for everyone involved. It starts every night with a procession from Monmouth Beach to the Marine, and all are welcome to join in.